This year has been a challenging one for me and my family. There has been a heathy dose of tragedy, drama and standing firm. My husband and I have been working hard to make better choices and taking a good look at the unhealthy patterns in our lives. We want to be the best parents and partners we can be, but sometimes this is extremely hard. Most of the time, the things that have been holding us back for years are the hardest to let go of.
My husband and I have a lot in common. One of the larger commonalities is a history of depression in both of our families. I don't want to elaborate on my husband's family history, except to say much of it flared up this year, but I can on my own.
Depression has been a theme in my family for a few generations. I would gather it goes back much farther, but ancestry.com is kinda vague about it. Anxiety, depression's ugly little sister, is something that is even more prevalent. When researching my book based on my mother's family in the 1880's, I read a lot of letters and personal accounts and they are littered with references to anxious personalities and workaholics.
So, of course, if you have a big history of depression and anxiety in your family, it is only natural for you also to have a grand ole tradition of addiction in it too. My oh my, we have a whole cast of self destructive addicts on both sides of my family who blew up and wasted the talents they had been given.
I know, I know, why am I giving you a mental health background check when any reader of this blog will not be placing me into a hospital for suicide watch or treating me in group therapy? Well, I've noticed this year, a trend online and elsewhere, when well-known or lesser known performers/personalities/famous people (or just well know people in certain social circles or families) self destruct due to addiction, depression or any other mental health issue. I've noticed, especially on facebook, that people, who have never mentioned the victim before, are suddenly very, very concerned about this person's illness, are suddenly this person's long lost best friend or say things like, "If you think someone might harm themselves...," as if they, themselves might have been the one to stop that heated freight train by tweeting something rosy the day the victim self destructed.
Don't get me wrong, I am in no way saying people should not be actively trying to raise awareness about mental illness or that they shouldn't do all they can to help those with mental illness/addictions. My concerns are about the timing of these efforts and only some of the content. So often, this concern and call to action only happens after the person is dead and I speak from personal experience on this one.
After I had my baby, two years ago, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression/anxiety. It is only until recently that it occurred to me, after the depression has lingered these two years, that I have been battling these issues on a smaller scale for years. It would not seem a mystery, that truth, to those on the outside looking in. I did have an eating disorder, a chronic physical illness that would depress anyone and I have been in and out of therapy since my early twenties. For me, however, admitting that depression is another, chronic, long term illness that I've been saddled with for the rest of my life, has been a slow train on a very broken railway. There is a bit of relief that comes with it, a sort of "Well, that explains a lot," release that has finally arrived for me, but that doesn't mean I'm completely at home with it. Like I said at the top, I'm working at it, me and my family are working on it together.
The thing is, having had huge health problems and mental struggles, I have found that a lot of the people who flock toward you when you are having an easy time of things, when you are having success in your career and personal life, all those people who are eager to be near you and support your efforts — they seem to slink away when illness, mental or otherwise pokes its dirty little head out of the sand. This is old hat to me, I've learned that my aunt's adage of people only needing six real friends and close family members in life, three for each side of the coffin, ring sadly true. I gotta say though, it doesn't make the old hat any less sad and frustrating. For me, I accept this. For others, it pisses me off, especially when a huge outpouring of concern and insistence that people become aware of mental health issues comes after the death of a person. I can't help but wonder, what would have happened if all this concern, this trumpeting of mental health awareness, had happened before the person quietly left this world thinking they were all alone?
I do know, with some people, no matter what, they will self destruct. I also know that when you are in that dark pit, it is hard to see the number of hands reaching in to lift you up. I also know, especially in the case of addicts, that getting distance between you and the person is the healthiest thing you can do for them. I'm not blaming those people who truly cared, struggled to get a healthy distance and tried to help those sliding down the spiral for not doing a good enough job.
I guess what I sometimes wish is that, those who did nothing, who just watched and ducked the dark times, that they be vocal about that. Be vocal about how hard it is to stand by during the "for worse" times, about how it is scary to stay around for the ugly parts of a friend or family member's illness. To drop the whole, I was best friends with this person/they were such a great guy/or girl/super avenger for mental illness for the day, attitude. I actually think that would be the most powerful thing you could do for those with mental illness — to start a dialogue about the realities of being there for someone who is suffering. It would, I know, be an honest relief from the norm for myself and I would venture to guess, many others who have suffered/do suffer for depression, anxiety or addiction.
I don't think this would be about blaming the, or labelling people as fair weather friends, I think it would be about understanding that it is not personal, that it is how people survive and thrive in business and society. It would shine a light on the true reality of walking through this world, amongst your peers, with a mental illness. It would help those who suffer to know that the mass exodus that comes along with mental or physical illness is not specific to their circle, it is the norm the world over.
I, too, have been guilty of ducking other's disasters, in the past, in order to keep my own mental sanity afloat. I am not guiltless. I understand that side as well. I just wish the pages of facebook and twitter were littered with those admitting the same, instead of what is the standard lately.
Let's face it, being around depressed people, can be, well, depressing. That, to me, is not the problem. The problem is, in my humble opinion, the lack of honesty about that and the tendency to paint over that gap with a happy, pretty, silence brush after the person has passed.
It is altogether human to do this, it is not unlike, when Liz Taylor died, all you saw were pictures of her from her Cat on a Hot Tin Roof days. I mean she did look like that for 20 years or so, but for the more considerable length of her long life, she was older looking and fabulously eccentric in her presentation. But, everyone wants to remember her with the happy, pretty silence coat of paint, not the parts they think were less befitting of her iconic image — you know, like aging.
My rant is almost at an end and I hope the ten people that read this are not offended. I've just found myself increasingly moved to speak on the subject and needed to speak my addled mind about it.